This blog originally appeared here.
How did I do research for Song of the Blackbird? My book is a contemporary romance set in prison. Yes! The first of its kind, a romance set in prison. Love blooms not between prisoners, but between a courageous doctor, Emma Edwards and the prisoner’s formidable warden, Maxim Chambers. People may wonder why I chose the prison as the setting for my book. Isn’t it a grim, violent place where all the “bad” people are housed? How could such a stark, unforgiving place foster any sort of love, let alone give rise to the everlasting, deep connection that blossomed between two very different individuals?
How do I know the environment is stark and unforgiving? The answer is simple, really. I see it everyday when I show up to work. Yes, I work in a prison. As the primary care physician for inmates, just like Emma. Though the plot of my story is fictional, some of Emma’s first impressions of the prison were my first impressions. Like her, I was struck by how free flowing the inmates were. I learned quickly there were different levels of security for prisons. My prison, like Albatross, is medium-security with open dorms and perimeter fencing. Inmates walk among the free staff, distinguished only by their blue inmate uniforms.
Like Emma, during my first week, I had to attend orientation to learn the rules of working in prison, the biggest one of which is to never be over-familiar with an inmate. Even accepting a simple thank-you gift from a patient would be wrong. With such strict rules, one day I started wondering what it would be like to have to violate policy for the sake of one’s loved ones. How would it feel to have a family member as a patient? How hard would it be to lie to coworkers and pretend the patient was just another inmate? Thus, the seed of Song of the Blackbird was born.
I’ve learned working at the prison that though some inmates are “bad,” many are there due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. Today, nearly one-third of the US adult working population has a criminal record. With such a large number, I wanted to write about what it’s like to be in prison. My book explores some of the struggles and challenges prisoners and their families face, but I confess I am a romantic at heart and the core of my novel is still the love story between Emma and Maxim.
Many years ago, I fell in love with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the BBC miniseries adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, so it was natural to combine elements of the above in my story. If you enjoy Orange is the New Black, then Song of the Blackbird would certainly be up your alley, too. I hope readers will discover from my book that though grim and dark, prison can be also a place of love, hope, and second chances.